Saturday, April 01, 2023
In this episode, Sven from InTribe and I talk how he got started and launched Intribe.
InTribe helps companies, social enterprises and non-profits grow by connecting them with like-minded brands for amazing collaborations.
Good morning, and welcome to the start and grow show. Thanks so much for joining me today. And, you know, coming on the show to share a little bit about your journey, and you know what you're doing with your business. So, you know, thanks so much. Glad you're here. Good morning, Craig. And thanks so much for inviting me to participate really looking forward to this nice shirt. I love that. Oh, good. I just got some swag, actually, for my my business as well. I got some hats with my logo on it. So I'm alumni swag. It's, it's awesome. So yeah, so let's, let's hear how did you get started? You know, what kind of, you know, made you kind of go down this path? And you know, how did you get to where you are today.
So it's quite a long story as in, it originated quite a long time ago. Back in 1998, I accidentally joined us tech startup. So I just come from really quite a lucky position. As a young engineer, I got to work on creating the first commercial ISPs in Australia. And you know, that was really cutting edge kind of work. And of course, as soon as we started connecting people, we needed to start keeping people out. So I got involved with computer security, and got invited to join a Seattle company that actually still exists today, called Watchguard technologies. And, you know, back in 1998, they were an early stage startup. And I got to join us one or two people in the Asia Pacific region. I joined to the sales engineer, I thought I was joining as a systems engineer, and back then I couldn't stand salespeople.
And, and nearly nearly quit, when I realized the only resigned. My first day on the job was actually a sales conference in Palm Springs, which which I loved. I mean, it was really amazing and decadent from where I had come from. But you know, the last thing I wanted to be involved with was part of the sales team. But the guy that hired me, I really liked and he said, Look, you know, this would be really awkward for me if you just quit last week, I said, Can you stick around for six months? And and you know, see what it's like. And, you know, suddenly I was running around Asia Pacific chasing with ours guy signing new partners, doing a lot of training and what was a high tech product then. And six months later, I think he was flying into Hong Kong, I was flying out of Hong Kong, and we met for breakfast at that Hong Kong Airport. And he basically opened up and said, you know, do you still want to get rid of your commission?
I was like, no, no,
I liked the sound stuff.
I was having the time in my life, just getting getting things done. And, you know, really traveling three weeks out of four, it was nonstop and often, you know, in Asia, back then, it was just a Saturday was a normal working day. And, and then you know, often because I wouldn't be back for a few weeks, I'd work Sundays and I was, you know, sometimes months on end of that. And, and I loved it, you know, I just really got addicted to it. And we obviously we wrote the first tech boom, the first tech crash, I went through all of that. And from there, I went to other startups and you know, joined earlier and earlier and sort of in more senior positions. And, you know, early team early founder, held advisory board positions.
In the end, I had a consulting firm here in Singapore, where I helped us, while actually North American tech startups expand into Asia and into Europe.
But I'd always wanted to build my own thing and working for a hedge. I had this Chicago startup as a client and as building out a global sales team for them. And you know, I really at the time started building in tribe as a side hustle to solve my own problem and you know, did that for it took too long, made a lot of mistakes move too slow, brought a couple of friends in as co founders didn't really vet them because again, it was kind of a side hustle. I wasn't necessarily that serious about it. But you know, it didn't work out. Not everybody can have a full time day job or a full time day business, plus a side hustle business. So
you know, that's kind of where it started. But in the end,
a few things happened towards the end of the pandemic and Google made announcements about blocking the thought or deprecating the third party tracking cookie.
And suddenly I, I had this lightbulb moment where I realized that when that happens, pay per click as an industry is is going to be devastated. It's going to shrink. I'm not saying it's going to end but at the moment
It's the biggest draw of marketing spend there is but just about any company, and that's got to go somewhere else. And that's when I said, you know, what I need to, you know, fish or cut bait within tribe. And, you know, if there's ever a sign or, you know, people talk about the tail winds that Airbnb had, or Uber, you know, there's always a moment in time where the really big breakthroughs happen, and the high growth happens. And it's not necessarily the team, or the tech or the idea.
But there's a fundamental shift that I think, you know, next year, in the back half of next year, we have the deprecation of a third party tracking cookie, and in Chrome, and that's 62% of the browser market still. So from one day to the next, everything changes. And, you know, that was it, you know, I sort of looked into the crystal ball and went, you know, what I'm going to, I'm going to do this. And so that was when I went all in, it took a little longer to unwind my consulting obligations, you know, that doesn't happen from one day to the next. But ultimately, you know, that's kind of the origin story, you and I built it to solve my problem, always wanted to build a startup didn't think I was going to be 50 when I actually did my own, for the first time.
So I'm a first time founder at 50. Despite all that experience, that's amazing. And, you know, I love to hear that last bit there. You know, I think a lot of people, you know, think that, you know, entrepreneurship is a young game. And and I honestly, you know, I've talked to more and more people in their 40s. And beyond that, that's when they're starting because, again, you've accumulated a foundation, that's rock solid, you know, you've got the skills and the breadth of skills across kind of being a business owner. And so yeah, I get it. You know, I think that's amazing. You know, I think it's perfect time. And, you know, I always use the the Colonel Sanders thing, you know, like, yeah, the guy started KFC at 71. And look where it is.
Now. He's, he's long gone. And that company's still making millions, right. So I love it. So let's jump into, you know, the actual solution here. So what was the problem you were looking to solve? Like, what kinda was, you know, you know, there's change in the industry. So what does it try to do? Like, what's the core kind of problem that you decided to go after? And who's your dream customer? You know, I usually, when I'm when consulting, like, that's kind of the first place like, Who are you solving? And what are you solving for?
So there's, there's a couple of parts to the answer. So the the seed was planted with another Seattle startup. So I did that originally, these can go to Security startups, enterprise software, and hardware. And the the founders of Watchguard, were good enough, they kept they were really committed to the startup industry. And they kept investing that, you know, they made a killing in that first tech boom, they kept investing in other local startups in Seattle, and they kept bringing me back in. And so eventually, I joined a consumer tech startup, which was actually a GoPro competitor. And we were neck and neck with GoPro for five years until we weren't and, you know, that's a story in and of itself. But, but for five years, we had an amazing run, we
led the global sales team into the Inc 502 years in a row first time that 197 992 And the second year was number seven. So we're the seventh fastest growing privately held company in the USA.
And that was amazing, you know, did all that high growth stuff hiring ahead of the curve, and, you know, just hire good people, and we'll figure out what to do with them if they're available and all that really crazy, crazy stuff. So, but they're also I learned about brand partnerships. And so we had long before GoPro had this what's now a very memorable partnership with Red Bull. We had Red Bull as a partner, and I could see immediately what what, you know, basking in their Halo did for us. And we partnered with Burton, the snowboard company and k two whiskey company and Ducati and then eventually when basically go pro outraised us for our series B, we kind of did a $12 million raise and they did $100 million, raise the timing and that was literally the bid very quick, very hard beginning of a very quick end, but they bought the Red Bull relationship from out underneath us and then we partnered with Monster Energy. And so so you know, I kept learning about it. I wasn't responsible for bringing on the partnerships or designing the program. But if I did use that for for example, in store activation, so we had these huge retail chains in Europe, I would partner with the local Red Bull team and they would maybe bring some of their athletes in for install signing or we would do these events on mountains and you know, really just work with them and generate a lot of content we know that a lot of it was content partnerships. We had cameras and and you know they had the these extreme events
And so as I, you know, I didn't do a lot of Silicon Valley startups, a lot of my startups were Pacific Northwest Chicago, did a Boston one for a little while. And we never had that I've never worked for, apart from Watchguard. The first one never worked for a really well funded startup. So dollars were always tight, like Guy was always in really early from, you know, the transition of bootstrapping into seed. And then, you know, up to series a mostly, and what, what always happened was, there was just never enough money for marketing. And I was the global sales guy, and I could move product onto shelves, but often they weren't moving off the shelf. And this is what happened with this Chicago company. And I was always bringing in this concept of brand partnerships. But what would happen was, I'd have the job of, you know, being the sales guy and building the sales team and the channels. And then I'd also have a second job of finding the brand partnerships and creating those and, and doing that. And, in the end.
You know, we had this I was at this beautiful company we were making, it was the first few remember Bluetooth speakers, when they first started, it was all about convenience. You know, it wasn't about sound quality. Yeah, so I worked for the Chicago startup that really made the first high quality down Bluetooth speaker, and was therefore bigger was the first in the boom, boom box, the 80s boom box shape, to bring that back. And I can get it on the shelves very easily. Because I could I knew the buyers could pump the box in front of them can play it, they could hear the sound, the price point was amazing. And you know, we could get it under the shoulders, but they wouldn't move off the shelf people, you know, want to trust the the audio, they want to trust their speakers, you know, they couldn't hear it, you couldn't do it over a video.
And so but the founder had been burned by every marketing agency under the sun. If you you talk to founders, every founder has a story about a poor marketing consultant, or poor marketing agency, you take all of you take all of those stories and wrap them up in one person. This was the founder of that startup. So we will argue here, amazing guy, a genius. But we would argue I was like, I need some air support. Here. I did a cover, and eventually said, Well, what's the best ROI marketing you've ever seen? And I said, I thought about it for a while. But you know what brand partnerships. I mean, we have the speaker, we're targeting middle aged men professionals.
And, you know, we can partner with car shows, we can partner with gun shows, we can partner with bands we can partner with, we can do yoga on the beach, you know, if we wanted to, you know, extend the brand to new markets. I mean, there's so many things we could do all these lifestyle products is great, you know, go do it. And so there I was, again, second job. And I was sitting there thinking, and as I'm going through LinkedIn, building lists and doing cold outreach, and I was thinking, you know, there must be a platform for this that just connects brands that want to partner and I started looking for one couldn't find one. You know, I'm looking for CO marketing, partnership, marketing, Alliance marketing, brand partnerships, I couldn't find one turns out one existed in Australia, where I where I'm from, of all places, but
they were their SEO was about business matchmaking and you know, other terms, so I didn't find them, and I kind of went, you know, somebody needs to build this. And so that was where the initial plead with seed was planted was planted with contour where I experienced first and then, you know, eight years later, I finally went, I got to build a platform.
And, you know, as I said, it was the side hustle. And so you know, the first thing that solves for is just, you know, discovering connection brands that want to work together. And you know, the one liner is in the for brand partnerships, but it's really more like LinkedIn with without the recruiter spam without all the other stuff. You instead of searching for job related kind of terms, you can search for what type of partnership you want, whether it's a content partnership, or an event partnership, or, you know, a cause marketing partnership, you know, a store within a store distribution, partnerships, all that sort of stuff, and then, you know, buy target market and etc. And so that's what the original idea was for.
So two things happen. One is, so we're solving two things now, that in itself, I think was was a viable business. But the other thing that we're solving for now is your customer acquisition costs, customer acquisition costs are getting out of hand. You know, particularly with paid ads, Pay Per Click advertising, the costs keep going up, the ROI goes
And, and then with the deprecation of the third party tracking cookie brands, whether they want to or not are gonna be forced to diversify. And when you look for what's going to fill the gap and pay per click, you know, Seo was awesome, I do a lot of it, but they do the work today for you know, benefits and 18 months from now,
referral marketing is awesome, but you can't go from zero to one with it, you need a large audience to refer more of it. And partnership marketing kind of fills the whole gap, you can do something very immediate, we could meet in a coffee shop or a bar and get chatting and realize we've got a similar business that's not competitive targets the same audience, I could email my email list with an offer about your product, you and vice versa. And for almost zero cost and a couple of hours work. And you know, we get quite a lot of exposure. And that's the beauty of it, the ROA is so high. And so you can do it really quick. Or you can get married like GoPro and Red Bull where they now own shares in each other product red and iPhone. And so it covers a whole range. So that's what a does a quick question on that. So is it generally brand to brand like you're, you know, you're you're matching up brands, right? Because I've seen a few. Yep, marketplaces like this, you know, that you're basically bringing, you know, two groups together, and I see a rise of a lot of like, you know, brands to creators, and, you know, what's your thoughts on that, right? Where it's like, you know, the rise of Tik Tok and all these kinds of short forms, you know, have created, you know, millions of creators, you know, that have audiences and, and I've seen, you know, agencies, you know, pop up that really focus on similar to what you're saying it's, but it's more matching the brand, you know, to the Creator, and more so just about, you know, I, you know, it's helping the brand, right, like the creators getting outsourced. So this is more brand to brand knows what you're saying, you're more like, you know, we got purely brand to brand. Okay, that's cool. So influencer platforms exist, matching brands to influences, but influences as much as they talk about collabs. And collaborations. I'm not, and I'm not saying in all cases, but in most cases, they're just another paid acquisition channel. And whereas brands working with brands, sometimes there's money involved, but often there isn't. And they're just sharing resources, sharing audiences, and just working together to basically build a team of teams. Yeah. So the platform, obviously, like you said, it helps with discovery, right? So you know, I'm a brand I get on the platform, I'm looking for partners, you know, what else does it do? So I found, hey, I, you know, I want to work with Red Bull or I want to, you know, work with another, how does that whole process work?
And what do you facilitate for, for brands on the platform. So the main, the, the MVP that we launched with was purely discovery and connection. And, and, you know, and basically, it shortened it to something that could be 30 hours and down to 15, to 20 minutes, all the brands on the platform are there because they want to park. So it's not just providing details to some brand that doesn't know that they're on the platform, these are all brands that have opted in, they are there specifically to partner,
then you're also connecting immediately with the right person. So discovering connection, and you can connect for specific things, you know, so brands will say whether they're interested in content partnerships, or event partnerships are what it is. And so then you can find them in search for that. And so again, you're shortcutting, the whole discussion, you know, that these people are open to these types of things. So that's where we started. Now, you can build campaigns, so a lot of a lot of general brand partnership conversations, when it's cold outreach, often, often really bad. And they start with Hey, bro, do you want to partner you know, basically, you know, some version of that? And then the spot responses? While maybe, you know, tell me about yourself, what do you have in mind, etc, etc. So the way the professionals do it, of course, is, you know, and the big brands have partnership, marketing managers, you know, the GoPros, the Red Bulls, right, and they have dozens or hundreds of them, and they will come out, and they will actually go, you know, we would like to partner, here's our proposal, here's our value, you know, just like any sort of good outreach, and in any from any perspective, but so what you can do on in tribe, is you can now build campaigns, and so the campaign is the thing. So let's say can be as simple as, you know, I just want to you know, content partners, so we can do backlink exchange and then that can be quite a simple static campaign and you spell out what you're offering and you know, what your domain authority is and you know, the traffic and who your audience and you explain all that and that comes up in search.
But you can also build
Very detailed campaigns, and the campaigns can both the brand profile and the campaigns can have video embed. So they can have videos, they can have a slideshow, you know, you specify a campaign, again, whether it's content or an event or both. So that comes up in search. So people can when they're searching, they can find you by your brand profile, but they can also find you by the types of campaigns. So that's where the campaign start, you can then take that campaign and invite people on the platform, so they get a notification, you've been invited. And so now instead of saying, Hey, bro, do you want to partner? It's like, Hey, bro, do you want to partner on this, and here it is, you know, you've got the whole campaign laid out. Yeah, that's similar to like Upwork, in a sense, where you know, you're kind of like looking for jobs or freelancers to bid on your projects, I like that. That's a, that's an interesting concept. And then we've taken that a little further, you can now share it off the platform. So you can invite people on the platform, but you can take that work that you've done, you can create the campaign in one place, and you can share it off the platform as well, you can drop it in a Slack or a whatsapp or something like that. So you know, the same work that can be applied multiple ways. And then the third thing with at the moment that we've done with campaigns is that they have a lifecycle. So they can be new, they can be current, and they can be archived, and now it becomes part of your CV Bulang. Brand profile. So some people have asked for five star rating systems, you know, like an app work on like other things, and I don't really like that concept. And so what rather than being rated, what a brand can do to show that they're brand worth partnering with is they can actually add their, you know, these campaigns will stay there as an archive. And so people can see all of the all of the the campaign's that they've run in the future, they'll be able to see the other brands that have partnered on those campaigns, so they could potentially do some due diligence and talk to some of those other brands. But it becomes a showcase of their partnership activity. And there'll be able to tag brands that are off the platform as well.
And, you know, it really overtime just becomes this, this showcase. So if you're looking for somebody in California,
that a sports brand, that does a lot of you know, to do a video content campaign with, and you bring up some brands, and then you'll be able to see, well, you know, one brand has done, you know, lots of pictorial stuff, and blog posts, campaigns and events. But this one cat brand has done, you know, out of the 14 campaigns they've done 12 have been video content. But hey, maybe I should talk to them first. Yeah, so that's how that's some of the things that are there right now. And, you know, a sneak peek into the future a little bit is, you know, obviously, we're going to automate some of this stuff, fine. I'm not talking about necessarily a chat GPT play more like your Netflix, recommendation engines, you know, brands, meats, suggestions of campaigns, you know, we can analyze, a brand's you know, we get the brand size of the email list, the domain authority, their social reach, all of that's in our databases, and then the brands, we can enter their goals, and then we can suggest brands that they can match with, and the campaigns that will help solve their business goals. Sounds Yeah, very cool. Sounds like a great platform. You know, I want to take you back, you know, to the beginning again, so, you know, we talked about the beginning of kind of your journey and stuff, but I want to go back to kind of those bootstrapping kind of beginning days, you know, and when it was probably just you, I'm assuming you were just on your own, you know, how did you kind of like, you know, really, you know, where the rubber meets the road? Like, how did you kind of like get the ball rolling, you know, software developments, not cheap, you know, kind of like your ideas. So how did you kind of formulate the ideas and kind of like, you know, that, you know, partnerships in the beginning, did you hire like, how did you build that kind of MVP, you know, to, you know, not that not where you are today, you got to be more mature product, you're kind of, you know, hitting the ground already. But like, what were those first kind of initial, you know, months, like, as you were just kind of getting started? What did you do? So in the beginning, right at the start, actually, I had found two co founders, so I never wanted to be a solo founder. As such, all the startups that I'd worked with. My whole experience was they were co founders. A lot of them had problems with a co founders. So I'm not saying it was all perfect, but generally, that was what I just assumed that I would do.
And one was the marketing co founder, and he was actually the guy that was originally responsible for the brand partnerships at that first startup where I discovered brand partnerships, and we'd remained friends after that startup and you know, he'd done the Red Bull partnership and the Ducati and all of the cool ones. And so he was keen to get involved
And then I found a tech co founder.
Now the marketing co founder, who's still a very good friend of mine,
very early on just said, You know what, I need some work life balance, you know, I have a full time day job. And you know, I have some other stuff going on in my life. And so very quickly, he tapped out and said, you know, this is not for me, you know, and there was no squabble, he didn't wander any of the shareholding or any of that, and would use the dynamic model, the slicing pie model anyway, so it was all easy to set up. The tech co founder was a little bit different, also a friend
that just didn't work out over time. He did some work, he'd come from a big corporate background, he'd done a lot of government, software development and large corporates. And, you know, I thought he could adapt to the more nimble approach, and maybe we could get an advisor that could help that had come from startup tech building. But in the end, he just really burnt out. And, you know, also tapped out along the way.
So that all was okay. The pandemic was was was deep at around the time, he tapped out, and I wasn't sure what I was gonna do was before I had the light bulb moment, so the product actually stagnated for a while, you know, we'd hired some other developers along the way. And I hired a couple after he left. And because I'm kind of semi technical, you know, I was very technical in the 90s, you know, taught myself a little bit about web web frameworks, but boy, boy, there's so much to learn, you know, it's not just to evolve the programming language, right, it's evolved a lot, that I talked enough to be able to talk to developers learn enough to be able to have a decent conversation with the developer.
But didn't really do much. And then I went, you know, what I'm going all in. And so I went out, and I had to, to quality developers, and, and started raising a little bit of money, still was winding up my consulting business, but I wanted to get things in place before that was all wound up so that I could, you know, move forward with some momentum. And then everything broke. The first time we pushed a new image, the whole DevOps broke. And, and it was, it was a dark, I would say six or seven weeks, where every day the news was worse. And I went out and hired a sort of mid level DevOps guy, and after a week, and a chunk of money, he was like, this is way too complicated. You know,
you're the guy that set this up, it's probably a genius. He says, you know, the script for the DevOps is beautiful, but it's everything and one really beautiful script, that is gonna take me months to reverse engineer and understand.
And then I hired progressively more and more expensive people to the point where I had this amazing Ukrainian guy that actually still does work for me today. But you know, he was like, $250 $300 an hour guy, and we churned through a chunk of cash really quickly. And obviously, looking back 2020 hindsight, I should have just thrown it all away, built it from scratch that we would have had it done in a week or two and save that money. So right, like, sometimes you just gotta, like, throw it out and be like, you know, what, we learned a lot. That was the output, we learned a lot. But like, the codes got to go, and let's take what we learned and start fresh.
So the code was, okay, so we recovered the code, but the DevOps string chain tool chain, the whole thing was just, and we did we throw it out. And, and, you know, so again, I did learn, I learned and I spent a lot of money, a few weeks.
Sometimes that education costs a lot, right. And sometimes it doesn't come in the form of tuition, it comes in the form of, you know, hiring people and firing people and, you know, making mistakes. So, that's really cool. So, no, that's a great story. I really like kind of seeing, you know, how you you struggled, like it's always hard, right? Like, no matter what are you building, there's, you know, there's good moments and always, always hard moments. So,
you know, how did you I want to kind of speak to like, you know, your mental health in this regard, you know, like, let's talk a bit about, you know, when you're struggling in those moments, like it's so easy to quit, right? You'd like you said, you have something that's, you know, a knotty problem that just won't go away especially once you go live and and you're, you know, you've got customers like how do you deal with that, you know, as kind of a you know, a founder and like keeping that ball rolling you know, even when you don't want to but you like you kind of you know, you have to
so I was never gonna quit, but it did get very dark and I don't think I handled it well and I made more mistakes. That was the unfortunate thing I actually stacked mistakes on top of mistakes. So when I open the round the fundraise
and it's it's, you know, small precede round and 500k
precede I hadn't committed within the space of about five weeks, you know, we had these great networks in the US because, you know, I've been doing startups for for a long time, I had it all committed. And then I, the tech problems got so dark, and I got so I couldn't, couldn't see above them. And then I felt like, I was being disingenuous, raising money saying, I'm going to build this thing, when every day I was going backwards. And so I stopped raising, you know, I forgot the fundamental rule of raise money when you can, not when you need to. And, and so I stopped, I said, you know, what, I've got enough money, I've got some of my my own money in the bank, you know, much to my wife's discussed, that they, you know, spent way too much of my own money solving some of these problems.